Random Notes From the Diary of a Partisan Behind the Lines, or No Future for the Alternative Generation X ...
By Scott Puckett (originally printed in Finley Breeze)
First things first - alternative culture is an oxymoron. It doesn't exist. Much like military intelligence, lawful taxation and other such prattle, the term is nothing more than a hollow media construct carrying certain ideas and notions, allowing the facsimile of insight into contemporary youth movementsbut actually only misleading people into something they feel is an understanding. Bear with me. I'll explain.
Blame it all on the Buggles if you must. After all, they are the band which created the first video shown on the bedsore on the ass of society that we call MTV. Lest ye immediately begin screaming "HYPOCRITE! THOU WATCHEST MTV TOO!", I'll cop to it: I do watch MTV. I watch it religiously, ignoring the Pop 40 vids and searching for the elusive video with interesting cinematic qualities, visual jokes or cool music. Naturally, I spend a lot of time searching but that's beside the point.
When that Buggles video debuted, it ushered in a new era in music. No one can argue the significance MTV has on what passes for youth culture. Nearly single-handedly, it assumed the ability to monopolize culture, to transmit fragments of style and factions to people. It began to broadcast images of a global youth, united in flannel and body piercings, one alternative nation under gangsta rap, with videos and veejays for all. From the early days with veejays like Martha Quinn and Mark Goodman to simpering fashion victims like Lewis Largent and Kennedy, MTV has attempted to portray a cooler-than-cool and certainly cooler than the viewers image through programs like Alternative Nation. And let's be realistic - the only thing such programs do is encourage conformity to a Procrustean ideal of alternative living, pierced lips and all. Yeah. Thanks but no thanks.
However, MTV has had a significant, if immeasurable, effect on people who aren't familiar with, say, Teenbeat Records or Shrimper. When a flickering tube projects images identified as cool, images which are then commercialized, adopted by and sold to groups of teens en masse, naturally it will affect the culture as a whole. So what has the result been? Grunge rock. Senser and Rage Against the Machine. The commodification of punk. Copying videos, which were copies of another copy which (alluding to something earlier) alluded to idealized forms which never existed. Maybe reified simulacra is the best way to put it, if that makes any sense; making real a copy of something with no original.
This is MTV's rendition of culture, played 24 hours a day, broadcast around the world on corporate-owned satellites. What a culture. What a country. I've been taking notes on them and watching them very carefully, but I have to be careful not to tip my hand. If they find out I'm here, I'm done for. They'll send me to the camps and beam TLC and Rembrandts videos straight into my head, no protection from the skull. They'll shoot them through my optic nerve at four videos per second to try to reprogram my perceptions in a stuttering, flashing pastiche of pop and images of coolness.
In the meantime, I remain undetected and these cultural imperialists continue to foist their ideas on an unsuspecting public. But you see, I'm onto them. We all are, or at least should be. MTV has established a cultural hegemony, defining, no, DICTATING what is, was and shall be cool. They mandate what music composes the soundtrack to contemporary youth and what fashions will clothe them through these 3-minute long commericals for X-Girl, Fuct and Billabong. This single network controls how people dress, what they listen to, and even more importantly, WHAT THEY THINK by bombarding the youth with images. Kids of today shouldn't worry about Boston and other relics of the 70's. At least back then, a discernible youth culture could be found, captured in films like "The Bad News Bears" and "Dazed and Confused." Kids of today should defend themselves against MTV.
So what does all this gibbering about MTV have to do with culture? Everything. This network panders to every segment of youth, ghettoizing music in specialty programs, making distinctions between rap, alternative, metal, R & B and the like. They put veejays on to market the music, veejays who look like the people in the videos. Witness Kennedy, she who hosts Alternative Nation and seems to be so ... alternative, for lack of a better word, because she resembles most of the people in the videos. It's only a matter of time before she and Beck become an item. I'm convinced of this.
But to shift the focus to alternative, which is what I'm most familiar with, it seems strange that alternative bands like Soul Asylum (who sold a few million copies of "Grave Dancer's Union") are an alternative to something. An alternative to what? The other 9 records in Billboard's Top 10? What is the Catherine Wheel an alternative to? Ride? Smashing Pumpkins? Pearl Jam? What is Pearl Jam an alternative to? Soundgarden? In controlling culture by marketing it to viewers, by labeling it, giving it outsider status (think about it, the very name alternative suggests something set apart and away from norms, especially cultural ones, i.e. alternative lifestyles), MTV killed the very thing they were trying to construct and commodify WHILE THEY WERE CREATING IT. What a nifty trick, building a better mousetrap and setting it on fire as you start to put it together. Essentially, there is no alternative anymore. By dint of this, it could be argued that alternative culture doesn't exist either. Like the music which has crept into the upper reaches of the Billboard and Gavin charts, alternative culture has been co-opted, absorbed and made part of mass/popular culture again. The rebels have been castrated, the punks aren't spitting on anyone and the stage divers gave up combat boots for designer brand footwear. I am MTV, you have been assimilated.
The partisans are out there though. I had a meeting with other members of my cell tonight - the old rude boy who thinks the current wave of ska, much like Propagandhi claims, sucks. The Young Turk who thinks those Turks of the New Bomb variety are pretty cool. The GbV Barricade Regulars. The writer who thinks Kathleen Hanna is the Queen of the neighborhood. Guerillas, all of them, ignoring the images, seeing through specially ground glasses, much like those who fought against the perception of reality and actuality in John Carpenter's "They Live." This is our manifesto: Alternative culture is dead, if it ever existed. Stop labeling whatever exists, if anything exists at all. Stop trying to make sense of chaos. Stop trying to impose order on a dynamic, fluctuating, vibrant system. And, to borrow a line from a band which has been overlooked in culture, "Blow up your video."